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Online Communication and Adolescent Relationships

From: The Future of Children
Volume 18, Number 1, Spring 2008
pp. 119-146 | 10.1353/foc.0.0006

Abstract

Summary:

Over the past decade, technology has become increasingly important in the lives of adolescents. As a group, adolescents are heavy users of newer electronic communication forms such as instant messaging, e-mail, and text messaging, as well as communication-oriented Internet sites such as blogs, social networking, and sites for sharing photos and videos. Kaveri Subrahmanyam and Patricia Greenfield examine adolescents' relationships with friends, romantic partners, strangers, and their families in the context of their online communication activities.

The authors show that adolescents are using these communication tools primarily to reinforce existing relationships, both with friends and romantic partners. More and more they are integrating these tools into their "offline" worlds, using, for example, social networking sites to get more information about new entrants into their offline world.

Subrahmanyam and Greenfield note that adolescents' online interactions with strangers, while not as common now as during the early years of the Internet, may have benefits, such as relieving social anxiety, as well as costs, such as sexual predation. Likewise, the authors demonstrate that online content itself can be both positive and negative. Although teens find valuable support and information on websites, they can also encounter racism and hate messages. Electronic communication may also be reinforcing peer communication at the expense of communication with parents, who may not be knowledgeable enough about their children's online activities on sites such as the enormously popular MySpace.

Although the Internet was once hailed as the savior of education, the authors say that schools today are trying to control the harmful and distracting uses of electronic media while children are at school. The challenge for schools is to eliminate the negative uses of the Internet and cell phones in educational settings while preserving their significant contributions to education and social connection.



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